I have been researching a number of organizations and institutions that shaped and remade sexuality, gender roles, kinship structures, love, desirability and stigma in the nineteenth and twentieth century, especially in the United States. Among these were the American Purity Alliance (part of the larger Social Purity Movement), the apparently secularized Social Hygiene Movement, the Better Homes in America campaign, early Hollywood cinema, and, increasingly, a cast of advertisers and cultural producers. The completed research it forthcoming.
The ongoing and continuously-forming Critical Hedonism(s) project is an attempt to remake economies of pleasure and care in the 21st century. Here is its description, which can be found on the Critical Hedonism(s) website:
Critical Hedonism(s) is a project geared toward producing a more equitable ethics concerning the distribution of pleasure and care. It investigates how we might generate an economy of desiring and solidarity that is not constructed and taxed by external agents—specifically by capital/commerce and by the state/hierarchical institutions. Like any effective
Why critical? Hedonism has always presented a certain problem for humanity. The narrow pursuit of pleasure has invariably been criticized by philosophers, many of whom argue that there can be no greater unfreedom than being a slave to one’s desires. In the first place, no hedonism should go without being engaged in with some degree of critical self-awareness. While some puritans have argued for an outright dismissal of the passions, others have sought to shape and organize these passions in for the benefit of commercial, governmental, and other institutional interests. For these hierarchies, repression has been a tactic or tool in an overall strategy of canalization—that is: the capturing of sexually- and care-motivated movements for the reproduction of certain power relations and the churning of industrial processes. In order for this to work, sex and care have both been made artificially scarce—through moral consternation, through medicalized stigma, and increasingly through narrowing, highly conditional regimes of desirability—operating through an equation of socially-policed self-worth with normative standards of life achievement and attractiveness. This use of morals, stigma and taste-making (the logics of which have been largely written for us and not by us) have collectively constrained what constitutes acceptable and desirable conditions for deploying care, affection or pleasuring, with major, artificial scarcifying effects on the economy of care and pleasure. Within this nexus of power, pleasure and care, critical hedonism posits the question: are we genuinely made happy or even being ethical when we pursue these socially-sanctioned modes of pleasure and care? Even if we deem ourselves to be liberated from the constraints of moralizing repression, are our very tastes and desires not themselves constituted and ‘taxed’ by a regime of perpetual scarcity and narrow distribution of pleasure/care (if not for ourselves, than for the unlucky majority who are not as privileged as we are)? This brings us to the second operative definition of ‘critical’: the critical awareness and circumvention of regimes of artificial scarcity, ‘surplus repression,’ social distance from others, and stratification of access to affective bonds.
Critical Hedonism poses the questions: How can we dream bigger than mere ‘self-liberation’ in an era when sexuality is instrumentally used to sell products and entice commerce generally, with consuming (and, consequently work) today serving as a sort of passport into the world of sex and being desirable? How can we strategically saturate the entirety of austerity-choked, conditional pleasure fields? How can we structure desire in order to generate virulent abundance for others, as well as ourselves? Who is systematically deprived of care, affection and kinship (or situated in and held hostage by repressive/constrained fields of care relations), and how can we play a part in producing a less austere, cloistered field of care relations for these and other people? How can we come to desire both our own emancipation, and that of others, deriving pleasure and care from making pleasure and care possible for more and more people? And how can we desire the difficult and arduous work of critical thinking, research and logistics involved in imagining alternative futures? How can we build happy lives around resistance and reconstruction?